Reduce Your Fear Factor: Learn How Food Recalls Work

A food recall can be a scary thing when you realize last night’s dinner included food that was just announced as part of a potentially deadly contamination. That fear factor can most certainly increase when you don’t understand how a food recall works. It’s important that we realize the frequency of food recalls. There are typically more than 500 recalls each year throughout the United States and Canada. There are a lot of processes that go into issuing a food recall. Government agencies, companies, and other participants help determine if a recall is necessary.Tainted-Food_Bunk-780x439

Here’s How A Food Recall Works

One reason a food recall is issued is because consumers have become sick after consuming a food product after it has entered the market. For example, E. Coli or another contaminant being sold at a supermarket or a restaurant chain. An inspector may also discover a problem during an inspection, which will trigger further testing. When food enters the market with the potential of making consumers sick or injuring them, a combination of company and government regulatory agencies jump into action.

Regulatory Agencies That Handle Food Recalls

The first point of defense for consumers is the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This agency issues the regulation and safety standards for nearly 80% of the American food supply. The agency monitors food products from the US and from international importers. Food recalls for pets are also monitored by the FDA. The final 20% of food products, comprised mostly of meat, poultry, and some egg products, are regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and it’s branch known as the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).

Agencies Can Be Made Aware Of A Food Supply Issue In Several Ways

Notification #1: A manufacturer or food distributor contacts the FDA or FSIS after discovering a potential problem. Notification #2: An inspector discovers an issue at a facility and contacts the FDA or FSIS to warn of a potential recall. Notification #3: The FDA and FSIS both randomly test products through sampling programs. If an issue is discovered a recall may be issued. Notification #4: A food illness is detected after reports made to a state health department. The department  contacts the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and after verification the CDC contacts the FDA or FSIS.

Who Handles The Actual Recall?

In most cases a voluntary recall will be issued by a company when it’s product is found to be contaminated. The company is responsible for quickly issuing a recall. If they refuse the recall the FDA or FSIS will take legal action.   Under the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) which took effect in January 2011, the FDA has authority to shut down operations at a food production facility if the company refuses to issue a recall or if there is a “significant threat to public health.” While a company is responsible for issuing the recall, it is the responsibility of FSIS or the FDA to ensure that all reasonable steps are taken to remove the food product in question from the market. The agencies will reach out to members of the media and create rapid public awareness for the recall if the outbreak is severe. In most cases, however, the recall is simply placed on the agencies recall list via its website. Once the FDA or FSIS believes the contaminated product is off the market, they will send written notice to the offending company to end the recall.

Recall Strategies

A company’s distribution practices, facility manufacturing, and other factors will play into the recall. To assure the FDA or FSIS that a company is using the right methodology, they must submit a recall plan in writing when a recall is requested. For example, a company must explain if a recall is required from wholesalers, retailers, and consumers. The food provider must also explain what type of press release will be sent out and then speak to the level of proposed checks it will use to ensure no further contaminants enter the market.

Why Are Food Recalls Issued?

Why Are Food Recalls Issued?

The most obvious reason for a food recall is contamination. However, misbranding, adulteration, and other situations can also lead to a recall. Reason #1: E. Coli, Listeria, Salmonella, and other contamination is automatic cause for a food recall. Reason #2: A foreign object such as glass or metal fragments has entered the food supply. Reason #3: Undeclared allergens such as tree nut, milk, shellfish, peanuts, and other unreported foods. Reason #4: Undeclared sulfites Reason #5: Uneviscerated fish Reason #6: A nutrient imbalance, which most often occurs in pet food.

Recall Classification Types

The seriousness of the food recall will determine its classification. This system is used by both the FDA and the FSIS. Class I:  A Class I recall involves a reasonable chance that a food product will cause health problems or death. Class II: This class recall includes a potential health hazard situation with a remote possibility of causing adverse health reactions. Class III : Eating this food product will not cause adverse health consequences.